Meet Me in Mongolia: How Aging Aircraft May Dictate Kim-Trump Venue
“It’s really hard if you only have a 2,000-mile radius,” said David H. Rank, who previously served as the acting United States ambassador to China.
Locations in the United States and Europe were in the running, a senior administration official said on Wednesday, though the situation was fluid. Here are some options being discussed:
In theory, a neutral location like Sweden or Switzerland would be ideal. Both maintain diplomatic relations with the United States and North Korea and have signaled a willingness to facilitate the meeting.
Those locales have been the sites of some of the most significant diplomatic achievements in history — Geneva hosted the 1985 meeting between President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. It could provide the dramatic backdrop that both leaders appear to crave.
But to get there, one needs a plane.
“He’s not going to fly commercial,” Ms. Terry said of Mr. Kim.
With the expected range of Mr. Kim’s planes, a trip to Hawaii or Guam, the closest United States territory to North Korea, would almost certainly require a refueling stop or a borrowed plane. Korea experts call that an indignity that Mr. Kim would not accept.
“I have trouble believing they would do that. It would be embarrassing,” said Joel S. Wit, a senior fellow at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. “They’ve got to borrow an airplane? I mean, what does that look like?”
The Korean Peninsula
Two locations in the Korean Peninsula have been floated as options. The Demilitarized Zone, a 2.5-mile-wide, 150-mile-long stretch of land dividing the peninsula, already has a facility that could serve as a meeting site: the Peace House in Panmunjom, a border village that is the only place in the contested strip where North and South Korean soldiers operate in proximity. The Peace House lies just across the demarcation line on the South Korean side.
It would be about a three-hour drive for Mr. Kim — no planes required. The stark setting, though, is hardly Trumpian.
“You have to think from Trump’s perspective,” Ms. Terry said of Panmunjom. “It’s just not sexy.”
Pyongyang best serves Mr. Kim’s interests. The Americans would be coming to him — the first official visit by a sitting American president to the capital.
But such a trip has obvious pitfalls for Mr. Trump. Bowing to Mr. Kim’s needs puts him in a weaker negotiating position and is unlikely to sit well with the president, whose bellicose foreign policy leaves little room for deference.
Foreign policy experts fear that a visit to Pyongyang risks legitimizing the authoritarian government of Mr. Kim, whose country has not had diplomatic relations with the United States since establishing itself as a separate state in 1948. But that argument could lose credence if the meeting moves forward.
“One could argue you have already legitimized the regime by having a summit,” Ms. Terry said.
The senior administration official said the two sites were probably out of the running.
Elsewhere in Asia
A venue in Asia might be the easiest compromise. It frees Mr. Kim from the political headache of traveling by plane and keeps Mr. Trump away from North Korea. The options are limited if he wants to maintain his own political capital, though. Vietnam and Singapore are being considered rather than more obvious choices like China or Japan.
China is politically problematic because of the rocky relationship between Mr. Trump and Beijing. Seeking Chinese help in arranging such a historic event would do little to polish the Americans’ credibility, and Mr. Kim’s own relations with the Chinese are tenuous at best.
“The politics of doing this kind of summit under the protective wing of the Chinese just strikes me as pretty implausible,” Mr. Rank said.
Japan is not an option given its longstanding historical tensions with North Korea. Russia presents a similar problem to China; amid tensions with the Kremlin, Mr. Trump would be ill-served in relying on Russia to host what could be a crowning diplomatic achievement.
A long shot, Mongolia, could serve all parties, and its government has offered to play host to the meeting in its capital of Ulan Bator.
“At least politically, the easiest place for everyone would be Mongolia and Ulan Bator,” Mr. Wit said, “because the Mongolians like to think of themselves as the Switzerland of Asia.”
News credit : Nytimes